Nassau County Republicans seized on the arrest of Democratic county Legislator Carrie Solages on domestic violence charges two weeks ago, hoping to blunt a campaign by Democrats running for county office focused on GOP corruption.
A week later, The GOP’s uplifting message that corruption in Nassau County was a bipartisan effort suffered a setback when seven people were hauled into court in handcuffs for what the Nassau County district attorney called a “shocking and interconnected web of public corruption” in the Republican-dominated Town of Oyster Bay.
Included were three former Republican town officials led by former Town Supervisor John Venditto, a GOP political leader, a current town employee, the owner of a major town contractor and his wife.
A grand jury also indicted Frederick Ippolito — a former Town of Oyster Bay planning commissioner who was allegedly the mastermind of the schemes.
Ippolito, who pleaded guilty to federal tax charges last year, died in prison last month.
For those keeping score at home, that brings to seven the number of current or former Republican government officials in Nassau County charged with crimes in the past two years.
The other three include Dean Skelos, the former majority leader of the New York State Senate, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Town of Hempstead Councilman Edward Ambrosino.
Not included in the count are the GOP political leaders, their friends, supporters and family members.
This is not to say that Nassau Republicans are alone in their alleged misbehavior.
Gerard Terry, the former Town of North Hempstead Democratic Party chairman, has been indicted by both New York State and the federal government for tax fraud and failing to file his income taxes — all while holding six government jobs that included working as the attorney for the Town of North Hempstead’s Board of Zoning Appeals and a special counsel in the town attorney’s office. And former Nassau Legislator David Denenberg was sentenced to 90 days in 2015 for bilking a law firm client out of $2.3 million.
But it is clear that at least for the moment the Republicans have established a clear lead in the alleged corruption business, political or otherwise.
This, in part, reflects the party’s dominance in the towns of Hempstead and Oyster Bay and in Nassau County government.
As Lord Acton is frequently quoted as saying: “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The question is what can Nassau County taxpayers do to curtail the political corruption?
The first place to start is to educate voters how political corruption affects them.
A poll conducted in May ranked political corruption third among their concerns and taxes first.
But this seems to miss an important point. Part of the reason for taxpayers’ high taxes is political corruption.
“The victims here are the honest taxpayers who work hard and play by the rules to live in the beautiful Town of Oyster Bay,” District Attorney Madeline Singas said after the indictments were unsealed against the Town of Oyster Bay officials.
Just as retail stores must raise their prices to offset losses from shoplifters, governments must raise taxes to pay for corrupt officials.
The second place to look is what police and crime shows often refer to as motive and opportunity.
The motive part is easy — money.
The opportunity is not much harder — lax supervision of government money.
Both Republican and Democratic candidates for county office are offering a variety of remedies for addressing political corruption in Nassau County this year — some good, some just window dressing.
But an easy way to judge the seriousness of a candidate’s commitment to curtailing political corruption in Nassau County is whether they support the appointment of an independent inspector general to oversee all county contracts.
Democrats, including Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, have called for an inspector general since Skelos and his son, Adam, were convicted last year of using political influence to secure a $12 million Nassau County contract for a company for which Adam Skelos worked.
County Republicans have resisted the proposal, passing several lesser measures that ultimately leaves oversight and the power to hire and fire in the hands of the county executive.
We have seen this movie before. And keep in mind that even though he faces a federal trial in 2018, Mangano has not ruled out running for re-election.
An independent inspector general could also pave the way for a reform that could save taxpayers real money — centralizing the purchasing of governments at all levels in Nassau County for greater buying power.
At the moment, no one of sound mind would endorse the county serving as the purchasing agent for towns, villages, school districts, special districts and other fiefdoms.
But that could change with an independent inspector general — and an engaged public.